O'Keeffe v Ryanair Holdings Plc

JudgeMr Justice Kelly
Judgment Date19 June 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] IEHC 154
CourtHigh Court
Docket Number[1999 No. 2906P]
Date19 June 2002

[2002] IEHC 154


1999 No 2906p






HAIGH V BROOKS 1839 10 A & E 309

WILD V TUCKER 1914 3 KB 36









Damages -Evidence - Aviation - Whether defendant in breach of contract - Whether offer "a gift" - Whether intention to create legal relations (1999/2906p - Kelly J - 19/6/2002)

O'Keeffe v Ryanair - [2002] 3 IR 228 - [2003] 1 ILRM 14

Facts: The plaintiff sued the defendant over an alleged breach of contract. The plaintiff claimed that she had entered into a contract with the defendant which entitled her and a named companion to free travel for the rest of her life. The contract was allegedly entered into as part of a "millionth passenger" promotion. The defendant had contended that the offer in question was in the nature of a gift or in the alternative if there was a contract the defendant denied that a breach had occurred. Conflicting evidence was tendered by both sides as to the events surrounding the conduct of dealings between the parties.

Held by Kelly J in awarded damages to the plaintiff. The court preferred the evidence of the plaintiff in relation to her dealings with the defendant. There was no question of a gift being involved. There was an agreement entered into between the parties that the plaintiff in consideration of consenting to be involved with the publicity sought by the defendant would be eligible for nomination as its millionth passenger. The surrender by the plaintiff of her anonymity and privacy and her active participation in the generation of the publicity that was created on the day in question amounted to a real consideration and sufficient to support a valid contract. The defendant had been in breach of its contractual obligations to the plaintiff and had persisted in denying her her proper entitlements. A total of €€7,500 would be awarded to the plaintiff.


Mr Justice Kelly delivered the 19th day of June, 2002.


The Plaintiff claims damages for breach of contract. The defendant denies that it ever had any contract with the plaintiff. Rather, it alleges that this litigation is about a gift made to the plaintiff and the claim is therefore unsustainable.


In her statement of claim the plaintiff alleges that on the 20th October, 1988 she entered into a contract with the defendant under which it offered her the opportunity to be selected as its one millionth passenger. In consideration of this the plaintiff agreed to offer her services for publicity to the defendant should she be selected, Furthermore she agreed to forego her constitutional right to privacy. She alleges that it was a term of that contract that if she was successful she would be entitled to free travel for herself and a nominated person on any route operated by the defendant for the rest of her life.


In its defence the defendant admits that on the date in question it made an offer to the plaintiff when she was the one millionth passenger travelling with it but denies that she was contracted to provide publicity services or to give up her constitutional right to privacy. The defendant alleges that the offer was in the nature of a gift but is remarkably unsure of its terms. It puts forward no fewer than five different alternative terms governing the gift. It furthermore contends that if the court concludes that there was a contract as between the plaintiff and the defendant that it was not in breach of such contract.


It is necessary to look at the facts as adduced in evidence in order to make sense of these competing claims.

The Plaintiff

In 1988 the plaintiff was 21 years of age and working as a secretary in London. In October of that year she returned to Ireland to attend her grandmother's funeral. She planned to go back to London by air on the 20th October, 1988. In order to do so she purchased a ticket from the defendant for a direct flight from Dublin to London on that day.


On the 20th October, 1988 she presented herself at the check-in desk at Dublin airport so as to be able to board the flight. It is the events which took place on that occasion which constitute the genesis of these proceedings.

The Events at Check-in

When the plaintiff presented herself at the check-in desk the defendant's representative enquired of her as to whether she was aware of the fact that she might be the one millionth passenger flying with the airline. She was told that she might be that passenger and was asked if she would be prepared to participate in publicity in such event. She indicated that she would be so prepared and was given a badge which was placed on her lapel. This badge contained the defendant's logo and the legend "1 in a million".


The plaintiff moved on into the duty free area where she was approached some little time later by a representative from the defendant. She was told that the name of the millionth passenger was about to be called.


A short time later the then chief executive of the defendant Mr P.J. McGoldrick announced the plaintiff's name as the one millionth passenger. As such the defendant represented to her that she would have unlimited travel for herself and her nominee for the remainder of her life.


The whole event was designed to and did in fact attract enormous publicity. It was on radio and television news bulletins that evening and night. There was publicity in the national newspapers. The event itself had an accompanying champagne reception; a band was present as was the well known street character known as the "Diceman". A video of the whole affair was taken and was put in evidence.


As the plaintiff herself said she thought she was getting involved in a publicity stunt whereby the millionth passenger would receive, in return for publicity, unlimited free flights for life. She agreed to and did in fact fully participate and comply with all of the requirements of the defendant in that regard.


Her belief as to what she was involved in is in my view borne out by the evidence of the present chief executive (Mr O'Leary) of the defendant. In October, 1988 he was the chief financial officer of the defendant and was aware of what was going on. In the course of his evidence he made it quite clear that "the purpose of the thing was to generate some publicity for Ryanair". The whole affair was carefully stage managed by the defendant. It appears to have had little enough to do with whether or not the plaintiff was actually the millionth passenger travelling. In fact it is most unlikely the plaintiff was in reality the one millionth passenger.


As the chief executive said, the defendant knew that at some stage during the particular week in October, 1988 the defendant would carry its millionth passenger. The marketing men were keen to generate publicity for that event. So they picked out a passenger on a day of the week that was quiet i.e. midweek when they could be guaranteed to get photographers to Dublin airport. Furthermore, it is clear from the evidence of Mr O'Leary that if a passenger at check-in had indicated that they would not become involved in publicity they would not have been picked as the supposed millionth passenger at all.

Later Events

Having been chosen by the defendant the plaintiff was given a giant sized replica of an airline ticket which bore the legend "Passenger ticket and baggage check for our millionair passenger. Valid for free air travel for life." The figure 1,000,000 is contained in the top right hand corner.


Some weeks after the event the plaintiff received a written communication from the defendant. It took the form of a letter from the defendant's commercial director to which there was attached an agreement. The plaintiff recollects that this agreement set out how the arrangement was to work for herself and her nominee. She read through it and showed it to her father and it seemed quite a straightforward document. She recalled that one of the stipulations was that she was obliged to nominate somebody to be her travelling companion. At that stage she was only 21 and was unmarried. She felt that she could not nominate somebody for the rest of her life so she contacted the marketing manager an Ann O'Callaghan by phone and explained her difficulty to her. She made an arrangement with Ms O'Callaghan who was very understanding of her situation and indicated that the defendant would be prepared to consider allowing her to nominate on a year by year basis. The plaintiff left the written contract with Ms O'Callaghan so as to enable the necessary amendments to be Made and was assured that the defendant would reissue her with a revised contract. No such contract was ever furnished.


Notwithstanding that however, it is quite clear that the arrangement as between the plaintiff and the defendant worked smoothly for many years up to 1997.

1988 to 1997

During these years the plaintiff utilised her entitlement with the defendant without difficulty. Her use of the free travel facility was on any view modest. During most years she took three or four flights and certainly never exceeded five. In one year she used the entitlement as little as once. Despite the lack of documents the arrangement worked well.


Typically, the plaintiff would telephone the marketing department of the defendant, identify herself and notify them of the booking that she required. She did this about two weeks before flying. There was usually a designated person whom she would contact. Having phoned through her reservation she would receive either a fax or a telephone call giving her a reservation number. Armed with that she would then...

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